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Feature: Karim hoping to rise to top during second Villa campaign
Karim El Ahmadi on his second season resurgence.
29th Oct 2013
Feature: Karim hoping to rise to top during second Villa campaign


Harrison

The Karim always rises to the top.

When Karim El Ahmadi fired past England goalkeeper Joe Hart to launch Villa's comeback against Manchester City last month, the swell of emotion from the Moroccan was palpable.

Arms aloft and with a smile as wide as the DrĂ¢a River, he pivoted away from goal and made a beeline for the technical area to rejoice with team-mates and coaches.

The 28-year-old's second Villa goal had been a long time coming. It was 13 months since his first - a consolation on his home debut in a 3-1 defeat to Everton.

But the deeply-religious El Ahmadi kept the faith.

It is a measure of the man that the first thing to flash through his mind following the City strike was to share the moment with colleagues who weren't involved.

Symptomatic, too, of the culture of togetherness Paul Lambert is looking to engender at Villa.

"You are always anxious waiting for you first goal of the season and it was very nice to score in a big win and at such an important moment," said El Ahmadi.

"We as a team have a good relationship with each other - it doesn't matter if you play or don't play.

"That was the main reason I went to the players who weren't playing - so that everyone felt part of it.

"It was for every player who is part of the squad - not just on those on the pitch.

"It is always good when you score although for me winning is the most important thing. But there is always something special when you score a goal."

City

El Ahmadi could relate to the predicament of those on the periphery.

After all, his inaugural campaign in claret and blue didn't go as swimmingly as planned due to a combination of injuries, Africa Cup of Nations duty and the latter-season form of fellow central midfielders Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph and Yacouba Sylla.

"It is true I came back from the Africa Cup of Nations and had some injuries, then also the team were playing excellently," he said.

"There wasn't a reason for the manager to change the team. But I respect that.

"We have good players you have to work hard to try and get back in the team."

El Ahmadi also admits to suffering bouts of homesickness following his move from Feyenoord.

Fast-forward a year, though, and the Morocco international is a central figure in Lambert's squad.

He has featured in all but one of Villa's nine Barclays Premier League games this term and now feels at home in English surroundings - as illustrated in a recent AVTV Q&A when he revealed a liking for fish and chips.

"Last season when I had days off I wanted to go back and see my family. But it is normal as a foreign player, especially when you have played all your life in Holland with your family always next to you.

"It was a little bit of a struggle because everything was new and I was alone here.

"But I am settled now and it feels like home. I feel happy in Birmingham and the people are really good to me. So are the people from the club and the other players.

"They have all helped me to feel at home and I think that is the reason why everything is getting better.

"Last season there were a lot of players that were new so you try and help each other at work and also when you are not at the club."

Having endured a difficult start to 2013, El Ahmadi's resurgence began in unlikely circumstances.

Back in April at Old Trafford - with Villa trailing 3-0 and Manchester United cruising towards a 20th top-flight crown - Lambert introduced El Ahmadi as a half-time substitute.

Although it was very much United's occasion, El Ahmadi's performance gave him a much-needed shot in the arm.

"It had been a difficult time for me," he explains. "I hadn't had a lot of minutes since returning from international duty plus I'd had some little injuries.

"I was very happy to have a chance from the manager to get back in the team. That's what I had against Man United. It was a big thing for me because I proved to myself I could do it.

"I knew I had the qualities and the spirit and the hunger to be good for the team and the club."

That hunger El Ahmadi speaks of blossomed during his upbringing in Enschede, Holland, where he was so dedicated to honing his skills that he even took the ball to bed at night time.

Religion has also shaped him. El Ahmadi is a practising Muslim who prays five times each day.

His drive, belief and inner-strength make him confident of achieving greater things in a Villa shirt.

"I always stay positive about things," he says.

"I still think I can give the fans more with the way that I play.

"I try to make and create goals and also work hard for the team in the midfield.

"But I think things are going well for me at the moment and also for the team.

"We have been getting points and I have been playing, too, so I am happy with the start to the season."

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